Sunday, 25 November 2012

Skyrim Screenshot


Just a screenshot I took while playing Skyrim.  I really like the way the moon looks in it, and the foliage is nice to.  I'm surprised how nice the game looks and runs on my laptop.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Crusader Kings II Continues Some More: Well, hmmmm

Enri's brother doesn't like his accommodations
How about no?
Remember how I said last time that the Scots were starting to expand, and had gotten themselves a foothold in Ireland? Well, they've decided to push right up to my borders. I have a feeling that the only thing keeping them at bay right now are all of the political marriages that my family has. If Scotland were to invade I'd have my pick of a number of powers to ask for help in trying to repel them. Perhaps they're not be keen on getting in war that may see them fighting the likes of France, Norway, Sweden, Castille, and the Byzantine Empire. So, I think I may have time on my side for figuring out what I want to do in order to deal with the Scots.

Before that, though, I've got another problem to sort out. Enri's eldest son is still off fighting the Crusades, and has sworn fealty to a foreign power. For a time it looked like he would be ineligible to take over Connacht, and Enri's second son, Coleman, would be the next duke. However, that's no longer the case, as Emich managed to get himself back in line for the throne. With that I managed to convince him to return to my court, and a few years later Coleman hatched a plot to have his older brother killed. I knew about it and could have had Coleman arrested, but I chose to look the other way because I wanted Emich dead as well.

Scotland is invading Ireland
Scotland is getting a little too close
for comfort
After a couple of years Emich was assassinated, but he does have two sons, and they're both next in line for the throne, so I'm going to have to plot to assassinate them as well, ensuring that Coleman can run Connacht when Enri dies. It's still a bit of a mess, my areas current succession situation. I'm hopeful, though, that I can get people on board fast to assassinate the kids. They're orphans now anyway, so they're pretty helpless, so I suspect bumping them off shouldn't be too terribly difficult. (Good god, that whole paragraph sounds so terribly cold and heartless!)

Things haven't been entirely grim, though. I've had another bishop go heretic on me, this time Enri's own brother who decided to embrace Lollardism. I promptly tossed him in prison when he told me this, and after a few years he had the gall to complain that his accommodation weren't up to snuff, and that he wanted something nicer. I told him to stuff it. After a time he died in there since he absolutely refused to convert back to Catholicism. Sad. But on the plus side, his death freed up a landed title which I gave to Coleman since he was still my heir at the time.

So, I've got a lot to work on next time I play. First and foremost is wiping out the last of Emich's family. I don't want Connacht falling under Enri's grandchildren's liege's control. After that it'll be time to deal with Scotland. Thankfully after hopping on the Paradox forums, the people there gave me a bunch of nifty tips for dealing with a larger, aggressive nation that's on your borders. I'm liking the idea of trying to assassinate the King of Scotland, and a few of his successors just after they take the throne. If I can pull that off and create a lot of instability there, I'll be quite happy.

Enri and the master spy
Enri has also embarked on a quest to improve is intrigue
I'll also need to start thinking about expanding into southern Ireland to increase the size of my own army, and just because it's something I want to do in this play through. My levies are getting pretty big, and I'm pretty close to being able to create a retinue, so maybe it's time to expand again soon. Despite a lot of things potentially going wrong the last little bit, I'm really enjoying this, as I'm seeing that there's a lot more layers to this game the closer I look at it.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Crusader Kings II Part XX - XVIII + III (I Think?): Holding Breifne, and Rise of the Idiot Son

Back to war with Briefne
It was only a matter of time before Briefne rebelled
After finally pressing my de jure claim on Briefne and defeating the county, I expected it to be difficult bringing the region in line. In order to keep their now defeated and vassalized leader, Arzhel, happy I tried giving him an honorary title and tossing him a few gold. It worked for a time, but eventually he just said to hell with it, called out Enri as a pretender, and we were back at war.

As luck would have it, though, it was a very short war. I marched my troops back into Briefne, and they got down to the business of smacking around enemy soldiers. Moments later I was informed that Arzhel was dead, and that the war was over, so things worked out rather well there. I didn't even need to call in foreign help, which was quite nice.

Briefne defeated again
The war with Briefne didn't last very
long
Now the dead count's daughter is next in line to run Briefne, but she came to power a child, so there was a Regency over there after the war. This was great for Connacht, though, because with a young, impressionable mind over there, I'd have plenty of time to get on her good side. I kept my chancellor over there telling the girl how wonderful Enri and his regime are, there were countless feasts, fairs, and hunts, and I took every opportunity to improve her opinion of the duke. This worked out quite nicely in the end, as she has a decent level of approval of him now that she has reached adulthood. She can even attend Connacht's feasts herself since she's come of age, so there are even more opportunities to butter her up in the future.

While idly scanning the map, I also noticed that Scotland has been expanding quite a bit, and has even gained a foothold in Ireland. They seem to be staying put in Ulster right now, and neighboring regions are on guard. It'll be a little while until the Scots are a threat to Connacht, but I'm keeping an eye on them for now. If they try to enter my territory I have a number of alliances at my disposal including Castille, Sweden, Norway, and France. Hopefully the threat of being stomped by some of Europe's greatest powers with give Scotland pause before trying to invade my fair dukedom.

Naughty wife
During the post-war years, Enri's
wife to a liking to smutty literature
Meanwhile, I've also been learning about the different succession laws as well as how titles pass hands. I finally decided to give Enri's brother a landed title since he wouldn't shut up about it, so he became the Baron of Anchory. He seemed happy about that, but a few years later because he'd married a daughter of the French royal family he somehow managed to become the King of Leon. I don't think he let the title go to his head because he stayed on as Enri's religious adviser on the Connacht council. The problem here is that I also wound up changing my succession laws to agnatic-cognatic primogeniture, which gives all titles and lands to a ruler's oldest son upon death. With that it's apparently important to have a landed title to give to your heir, and now I have none to give. It's not the end of the world, and not entirely necessary, but it would have been nice to make him a baron. Live and learn I guess.

Also, it seems like Enri's heir, Emich, also turned into a complete moron the moment I changed the succession laws.  Suddenly he was running around plotting murders left and right.  My spymaster discovered these schemes twice before getting bumped off himself by the idiot.  It's like he figured he's guaranteed to be duke now, so he can do whatever he wants.  After that I'd finally had enough and figured I'd toss the lad in prison for a few years while he takes some time to think about what he's done.  Instead he managed to avoid arrest, and buggered off to the Continent.  Now he's off fighting in the Crusades.

Renegade son
One boneheaded son may cost me my entire dynasty
With that I'm left wondering how secure my family line is. If Emich is gone, does that mean there's no one left to take the throne in primogeniture succession? Enri has three other sons, so if Emich doesn't take the throne, I really hope one of them can rule instead. If not, I may be facing game over soon assuming the family line cannot continue to rule under the new laws. Next time I play a session of this game, if I have an heir that starts behaving badly I'll likely just have him executed instead. I have a feeling that may be the better way to go. For now, I'm hoping that Emich dies in the Crusades. It'll certainly make my life a lot easier.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Crusader Kings II Part 17.35201593: At last! Briefne is Mine!

Trying to survive the regency period
Nothing spells fun like having a child on the throne
Obviously the title of this post is pretty spoiler-ific, but before getting into tales of glorious conquest, let's start at the beginning of Heinrich I's reign because he had a lot running against him when he came to power. Hell, he wasn't even allowed to rule by himself, so his mother was appointed Regent until the lad came of age (the game allows me to make all of the decisions myself during this period, so I didn't need to worry about her meddling in affairs). It was a bit of a worrisome situation to be in because if there's one thing that ambitious medieval types like, it's children on the thrown. They're perfect targets for accidents, attempts at marginalizing, and just power plays in general. They see someone weak, and go straight for the jugular.

Planning an assassination
Sometimes you just have to
bring the hammer down on
troublemakers
The only consolation in this was that Heinrich was already 14, and it would only be a couple of years until he'd be considered an adult. He just needed to hold out a little bit longer, all the while trying to improve everyone's opinions of him. It was a rough ride, as a revolt broke out shortly after his father died. It was quashed easily, and Connacht's marshal was assigned the task of making sure no more of these happened during the remainder of Heinrich's regency period. Those jerks in Briefne even used the commotion as an opportunity to once again usurp the title of duke from my region. It would be a short lived changing of hands.

Once Heinrich reached 16, things calmed down a bit. A decent number of his nobles were at least tolerating him, and the members of his council seemed to think he was a pretty okay guy. About the only real problem that kept popping up was that one of my courtiers kept assassinating my spymasters, and these guys had pretty good intrigue stats, so it got annoying after a while, and I had to stop it by plotting an assassination attempt of my own on her. It took a little while to find co-conspirators for this because a lot of people had a high opinion of her, but eventually I found a couple, and we got to scheming. It took about a year, but we finally managed to bump her off through poison. Other than that, though, things were quiet in Connacht.

I took advantage of this time to start making political marriages wherever possible, including marrying Heinrich himself. The most important of these has established ties with Castille, one of the more dominant Spanish kingdoms. These sorts of marriages are something that I want to work on now because I'm probably only 100-150 years away from England starting to push hard into Scotland and Ireland, assuming it tries to expand. I want to make sure I know how to swing some powerful connections around so that I can push them out of Connacht, and whatever other regions I conquer when the time comes.

Death by poison
The assassination was an oldie
but a goodie
It also seems that the Papacy wants to reward Heinrich and his predecessors for throwing Connacht's weight, however minuscule it may be, behind its Crusades. It's been the easiest 400 gold that I've made in the game. I did make sure that it went to good use, spending it on upgrades for both of my castles so that I can increase both of their levies. I should also note that the castle I build and talked about last post is now vassal-free, as the guy died and I have yet to bestow the vassalage on anyone else yet. So, I have a far larger personal levy to draw upon right now since I don't have to worry about relations with whomever might normally be overseeing the castle as a vassal. With that, things have worked out pretty well with all of the free money raining in, and some newly freed up levies. It almost looks like a good time for an invasion. More on that in a moment.

During the early part of his reign, Heinrich was beset with a steady succession of dead bishops. There was nothing sinister about their deaths, they just kept dying of natural causes. Occitan kept freeing up more and more bishops for me to recruit, but I had to wonder about their quality after a while. It got to the point where the only guy available was a certified lunatic. He actually had a trait for lunacy. I hadn't even realized that was a thing in the game until that point. I wound up recruiting him for laughs, though. Figured it would be fun.

Most of my court didn't say anything, but my mayor eventually called out Heinrich on the matter, asking why I had a heretic as a bishop, and why the man was also in his council. First of all, he's not a heretic, Mr. Mayor, he's just crazy. Second, dem learning stats! They're really high. How can I say no to those? Eventually I did capitulate and replace him on my council, but again people in that role kept getting sick and dying, so I had to go and ask the bishop to retake the position. I'm guessing he didn't take the original firing all that well, because when I went to check on him now he had not only the lunatic trait but was now also a drunkard. Great! (Truth be told, I'm half tempted to make him a guardian of someone just to see what happens. Tee hee!)

Money from the Pope
Free money!
About the only other thing of note to happen during this time is that, for whatever reason, Heinrich started to identify far more with his Irish heritage, and eventually decided to embrace it, eschewing his German half. He changed his name to Enri I, and seems quite happy now.

Oh, and did I mention that I invaded Briefne? Well, I did. The first order of business was to usurp the title of duke back for Enri, which would also return my de jure claim on that region. With that out of the way, I promptly declared war on the county, and marched some 800 troops on it. At first it was a route, as my forces smashed their army, and laid siege to one fortification after the next until finally coming upon the castle of the count himself. This was a much closer battle than I was expecting, as their garrison was quite large, with almost 750 units in it. I only just outnumbered them, and thus was able to win the siege, forcing a surrender from the count.

The conquest of Briefne
Oh, and did I mention that I conquered
Briefne?
This brought Briefne fully under Enri's control, and forced the count to become one of my vassals. The guy is understandably angry, though, so I'll need to keep a very close eye on him. I've had my chancellor over there, trying to butter him up, and it's worked somewhat. I may even try to shower the guy with gifts and honorary titles just to keep him happy. The last thing I want is for him to start forming a faction, and then get an insurrection going. It may be unavoidable, however. He just has too many negative modifiers affecting his opinion of Enri, and I'm not sure any amount of gifts or sweet talk will sway him in the long run.

So, now I wait and watch. Maybe I can somehow get the count on side, and we can start having slumber parties and doing each other's hair. If not, maybe it'll mean another war, and if that's the case so be it. I'll just march on Briefne once more, and crush him. Assuming he survives the battle, I'll make sure he spends the remainder of his life rotting in prison.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Crusader Kings II Cont'd: The Life and Times of Tadg II

Tadg starting an affair
Tadg had a tendency to indulge himself during his reign
With a new castle under construction, things were looking up for preparing an invasion of either Briefne or Tyrconnell. However, due to some problems with taxation policy, my lack of understanding when creating vassals, and not grasping retinues, I've had to put those plans on hold. When my second castle was completed, I made the mistake of creating a new vassal to take care of it. Unfortunately I didn't understand that this wasn't really necessary at the time since the place's existence would not cause my demense to become too large, consequently angering my nobles. I could leave it vassal-free, but I didn't. This resulted in my having a far smaller levy than I would need for an attack on Brienfe. I would have to wait for that vassal to die, freeing up the castle, or strip his vassalage from him, which would make him super angry. So, now I wait, and improve my castles. I'll also have to get a handle on making a personal retinue, but more on that in a separate post.

The birds and the bees
Just because you're a duke, it
doesn't mean you don't have to
answer difficult questions
So, here we are, a new ruler in Connacht with an opportunity to reclaim the title of Duke for his family. Would I usurp it? Absolutely! It turns out that this costs quite a lot of money, though, so I had to be patient while scraping up the 180-ish gold that I would need to perform the deed. With time, Tadg made his move, and became a duke just like his grandfather. As you can imagine, Briefne was none to pleased about this, but they started it by usurping the title in the first places, so, nya!

During his reign I'd have to say that Tadg has been the most ennui addled ruler that I've ever played in this game. He would get bored easily, and eventually decided to go and have an affair with his uncle's wife. I didn't even have a say in it. His bad behavior even resulted in a bastard son who I chose not to legitimize, humiliating his mother, infuriating his uncle, and leaving the boy with a deep-rooted hatred of Tadg and his house. Nonetheless, this went on for years, and for reasons I've yet to figure out Tadg's mistress, Helie, just kept on coming back to him no matter how poorly he treated her.

Tadg the inventor
For science!
As time wore on, the duke began to mellow with age. He eventually gave up his philandering escapades, and realized that he actually loved his wife. From then on, the two got on wonderfully. Tadg even developed an interest in science, taking it upon himself to try and invent a flying machine. Somehow he managed to sucker the local dung collector, Melrick, into test piloting the thing for him, and as you can probably imagine things didn't go so well. Miraculously, the pilot survived the first test, but after that he convinced Tadg to steal another local inventor's flying machine and try to claim it as his own. Upon testing this one, the machine plummeted to the ground, killing Melrick. With that, Tadg decided to give up on his experiments, and just focus on ruling his dukedom. The whole escapade did earn him a couple of points in learning, though, so it wasn't all for nothing.

Shortly after this, Ireland was once again facing the threat of a tuberculosis epidemic. I kept my fingers crossed that Connacht would again manage to escape being afflicted by the disease, but I wasn't so lucky this time. At first it trickled into my region, and before long it was tearing through my court, sinking its claws first into Tadg's brother, then hitting several of my nobles. There were a number of deaths at the hands of the illness. As luck would have it, though, it also managed to kill some of Tadg's enemies in his court, including his uncle who was still none too happy about Tadg's affair with his wife. Even my duke was struck by the disease. He managed to pull through, but died a couple of years later due to another illness.

Heinrich is too young to rule by himself
My first Regency
The worrying thing about this is that Tadg's eldest son, Heinrich I, has not yet come of age, so his mother is acting as Regent until then. Heinrich is already 14 years old, though, so it won't be long until he's a full-fledged ruler. He just needs to tough it out through the transition period, and hope no one holds it too much against him for the heavy German influence upon him from his mother's side of the family.

If he can hold things together, and bring his nobles in line, he could have an interesting run on things. He still has a de jure claim on Briefne that he can exercise, and his father poured quite a lot of money into castle improvements, so maybe he'll be the one to start Connacht on the path to conquest. It certainly helps that I think I have a better grasp on that element of the game as well. Before that, though, I'm just going to focus on getting Heinrich to adulthood in one piece.

To Part V

Friday, 26 October 2012

Oh, Hey! More Crusader Kings 2: Aed has been a busy duke...in the bedroom

Aed really loved his wife
Indeed Aed does love his wife, as we can see by the huge brood of
offspring that he produced with her.
After facing the threat of being invaded, trying to get back into the swing of things on his second marriage, and finding out his bishop was a heretic, things were looking rough last time we saw Aed I. He's been a busy duke, though. First he has finally had to fulfill many of his political commitments from marriages that he and his family are part of. Ie. He's been asked to lend his support to several wars. Thankfully, I don't actually have to send troops to these things, and basically just send these other monarchs letters that read little more than, "I'm with ya, man!"

Aed I was an amazing duke
Aed really did well for himself
during his reign, and his heirs

have some big shoes to fill
Unfortunately, with my county committed to all of these wars it also means that it cannot have any feasts, hunts, or fairs. I guess throwing lavish parties is in bad taste when people you know are dying for a cause or something. So, what's a duke to do in order to keep himself entertained. Well, I have a pretty good idea what Aed did because he managed to make another four children in less than a decade while all of these wars were going on. Not bad, and bare in mind that this guy had his last kid when he was pushing 80. In the Middle Ages. I guess there must be something in the water in Connacht.

I also have a feeling there's something in the water wherever Aed's clergy usually hang out, and it's something a lot more sinister because two more of my bishops have suddenly decided to go heretic on me. One guy embraced Walderianism, and I can't remember off hand what the other got into, but I'm thinking it may have been Catharism. Again. I had these people thrown in prison, but this time I was actually able to demand that the Walderian convert back to Catholicism, to which he happily agreed after which I had him released, and he lived out the remainder of his life serving in my council. The Catharin simply shouted, "I don't wanna!" every time I tried to make him convert so I was forced to leave him in prison. Unfortunately, I also forgot about him after time, so he wound up rotting there for many years before finally dying.  Did he ever have a change of heart, I wonder. I guess we'll never know.

Beware the tuberculosis epidemic
It's difficult to see here, but a
tuberculosis epidemic swept
much of Ireland
Meanwhile, things have been relatively quiet in Ireland. A crusade was called, so some of the counties sent troops to support it. I just lent moral support because I want my soldiers for local conquest, and would rather not squander them in some far flung part of the world. There was also a tuberculosis outbreak that spread through parts of England and eventually made it to Ireland. I could see the little greenish black cloud spreading its way across the island, consuming one county after the next and hastily recalled both my chancellor and spymaster from their foreign assignments so to hopefully prevent them from catching the disease. The way it so completely infected Ireland was a little unnerving. I almost wanted to blow on my computer monitor to prevent the clouds from making their way to Connacht. Thankfully my region never had a full blown epidemic. Only one person in my court was afflicted by the illness. So, potential crisis averted.

After quite some time, though, Aed I finally died. I was actually starting to wonder about this guy because he kept on going and going, living for over 80 years. In his twilight years it was easy to see that age was taking its toll. His stats were starting to go down, and the earl of Briefne was able to usurp Aed's claim on that county. Even after Aed did die, his son was getting up there in years, already in his late 50s, and didn't have a long reign at all before succumbing to age himself. About the only thing that he was able to accomplish was to get the "Lust" attribute. A few short months later he was dead, apparently of natural causes. Right.

So now Aed I's grandson, Tadg, is leading the county. He's suffering a fairly significant hit to opinion of him since he's still in the transition period after taking the reigns of power. This will last for a few years, so I have to do whatever I can to improve people's opinions of him. Thankfully we're not at war right now other than the crusade going on, but that doesn't inhibit feasts, fairs, or hunts like more conventional conflicts do, so he'll have to start up the partying anew like his grandfather once did. Hopefully this well get him in everyone's good books sooner rather than later, and he can get down to the business of expansion.

Moving on to third generation of rulers in Connaught
Because Aed I lived for such a long time, his son barely had a chance
to rule Connaught before dying himself

And this is where things could get interesting. Despite Briefne seizing my claim on that region, it's former ruler has died and there is a child on its throne, so I can usurp the claim right back now if I want. I plan to do this. It does get tricky, though, in how I go about invading the region. I recently started the construction of Connacht's second castle, which will be complete in under two years. When it's done, I will be able to muster significantly more troops, and also have a better selection thereof, including a larger number of heavy infantry. The long and short of it is that I should have a good-sized invasion force at my disposal, and I can finally start thinking about expansion.

Political marriage attempt
Tadg's first wife died, so now I'm
trying to marry him to a princess
But where to first? Briefne is in a weakened state with a new leader who also happens to be a child. It's an unstable region ripe for the picking. One problem exists, however. Tyrconnell has once again been making claims on Connacht, starting a year or so before Tadg rose to power. If I go all in with an invasion of Briefne, will Tyrconnell take advantage of this to expand into my own region? I want to invade with overwhelming force when the time comes, but if I do I could leave myself exposed on other fronts. It makes me wonder if I should try and fabricate a claim on Tyrconnell, and invade there first. Doing so would eliminate it as a threat, then I can focus all of my attention on Briefne (I hope).

So there are some decisions to be made. I'm leaning toward dealing with Tyrconnell first, but we'll see. Before doing anything I need to shore up morale in Connacht, and make sure all of my nobles are on good terms with Tadg. Only then can I start looking to expansion.

To Part IV

Thursday, 25 October 2012

More Crusader Kings II: Back to Reality

Could an invasion be coming?
Last time I checked in things were looking pretty good in Connacht. There were feasts, and hunts, and fairs a plenty. It seemed all of my neighbors had a fairly good opinion of its ruler, Aed I, and we'd even managed to get some nice ambitions completed, all resulting in a decent amount of prestige being earned. With that, it seems like the game saw what was going on and decided, "Better not let this guy get too confident" and proceeded to beset my region with all manner of problems.

Where to begin? Hmmm, first, another neighboring region, Tyrconnell, decided to fabricate a claim on Connacht, which means there's a risk that I may be invaded at some time. I have my army training, but my forces aren't very large, so it may prove to be a problem if this guy marches on me any time soon. All I can do is try and keep my soldiers ready, and maybe see what I can do about improving the area's opinion of Connacht. Not long after this Aed's wife died (of natural causes), and this proved to be a double problem because not only would I have to seek out a new wife for my duke, but I also needed a new spymaster. Filling this position resulted in a flurry of job shuffling in my council as I tried to find a suitable replacement. I had to go so far as to invite some new nobles to my court, but after about a year I finally had a number of new nobles that were very good at their jobs, and at last the spymaster position was filled for the long haul (I hope!). The council even got a couple of new members that were particularly skilled to take on the roles of steward and chancellor.

What the hell!  First you complain at my feasts, now
you turn heretic on me.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, though. Next came the matter of remarrying Aed, and this took a surprisingly exhaustive search of eligible lasses from across Europe. Eventually I opted for a young lady from Burgandy that's about one third his age (scandalous!), and they seem to be getting along well enough. They've even managed to have a daughter together, which made for a nice additional boost of prestige since I made that an ambition for Aed. Unfortunately, though, all of that hunting has finally caught up with the old duke, as he managed to wound himself quite badly on his last expedition. It came from a run-in with a bear. Thankfully he didn't die, but he did take a beating. So, no more hunting for him. He'll just have to settle for summer fairs and the occasional feast.

There have been no lack of spies
lurking around Connaught.
The final bit of adversity to hit Connacht came when my bishop tried to convince Aed to convert to Fraticelli, a heretical take on Catholicism. Of course I had the guy imprisoned immediately because the last thing I want is a heretic ruler, as I suspect that will put a big target on my region with people near and far plotting to invade it and reinstate the Catholic Church. Sadly the bishop died in prison a year later, and he's been replaced in my council with a new holy man (who has some pretty amazing stats, hedonism not withstanding).

So things have gone all topsy turby in a little over five years for my little corner of Europe. We're still throwing our parties but it's hard to ignore the looming threat of a potential invasion from Tryconnell, the loss of Aed's wife, and his bishop suddenly turning heretic. Things have started to take a turn for the worse, but now I guess it's up to me to get things back in order, and ensure that Connacht becomes the hippest, most happening place in all of Ireland.

Part III is over here.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Learning to Play Crusader Kings II


I've always been intrigued by grand strategy games. They seem such complex things as someone whose never played one before with all of the rules, countless factors to consider, and tons of historical depth to them. I think for a lot of people it feels a little daunting trying to get a handle on such a game. A while back I got my mitts on Crusader Kings II, Europa Universalis 3, and Hearts of Iron 3, but up until this point my time with the games can only really be considered fiddling riddled with false starts and silly mistakes as I try to get a handle on the genre.

Now I've decided to really sit down and try and get comfortable with these games starting with Crusader Kings II. I chose this one because I find it a little easier to grasp than the others, and it has a nice sense of humor to it as well where it feels like even if I lose I still kinda win just because of the hijinks my characters got into while playing.

I have a du jure claim on Briefne, but it ;make take some work to
bring it under my control
If you're not familiar with the game, the whole point is to pick a noble family and build up as much prestige and piety as you can. There's a lot of variety in the sorts of families you can control with four different ranks to choose from: count, duke, king, and emperor. You'll be able to pick these from all sorts of areas in Europe such as obvious places like France, England, Denmark, Hungary, etc. With expansions it's also possible to play as leaders from the Islamic world in areas like the south of Spain, North Africa, spreading some ways into the Middle East, as well as Byzantium. About the only rulers that aren't available are pagans, which is a bit disappointing because I'd love to play as one. I guess that's what mods are for.

So, for someone like myself who likes lots of history, as well as games with a lot of meat on their bones, I guess it was inevitable that I'd sink my teeth into these games. This go around I plan to play through a session until the bitter end amassing as much prestige and piety as I can until my family line dies off or I make it to the year 1453, the year the game ends in. I'm going to give it a go as an Irish duke in Connacht, Aed I. Ireland is pretty much referred to as tutorial island in the game because it's a relatively quiet area of the world where not much happens. The larger nations mostly leave it alone seeing as it's so far away, and nearby countries like England and Scotland have their own problems without trying to invade. About the only thing players need to worry about is other Irish rulers trying to take over neighboring regions. Just to make sure I've got a handle on the game's mechanics I'll be playing it on the lowest difficulty setting. If I survive I'll play a new game with it set to normal and see how that goes.

Hunts have been very good to Duke Aed I
I'm not entirely sure what I'm going to do with my family. What time I've spent with the game, I've not been a very aggressive leader, so I'm not sure how hard I'll try to push into nearby regions. I do have a du jure claim on Breifne, but they also have a larger, better armed military than I, so it's a bit iffy that I'd be able to take them. I tried once in a previous game and things went very badly, though I did rush in there within a year of starting the game, which may have been a bad decision on my part.

And that's one of the things that I'm noticing with Crusader Kings II: you need to take the long view on things. A lot of things take a really long time to come to fruition, so don't go running around guns blazing all the time like one would in countless other games. Realize that a plan that has just been set in motion may take many, many years before anything comes of it. Research takes time.  Construction takes time. Getting all of the pieces in place for some grand scheme takes time.

That isn't to say nothing happens in the game, and that players are forced to wait ages before events come to pass. There's still a lot to do for fun, for profit, for the benefit of your family / vassals / subjects / the clergy. That's largely what I've been doing so far, going on hunts, having feasts and festivals, and finding a wife for my son (landed him a daughter of the Duke of Aquitaine). With a steady flow of tax income, research into ways to get more taxes, improve military tactics, and get more monthly prestige, things seem to be going well.

One of the first orders of business in this session was finding a wife for
Aed's only son.
Prestige has been pouring in and I'm only a few of years into the game. This is largely thanks to some extremely eventful hunts and festivals that have become near annual events (I like to gamble on catching thieves selling stolen goods at the summer fair, as it's an easy 15 gold that can pay for all of the year's festivities with money to spare). The hunts in particular have gone unusually well with my duke constantly fighting packs of wolves, single-handedly slaying stags and bears, and really just clobbering any cute forest animal in sight. Well, maybe not quite all of them. I've let a few live when I could get a decent boost to my piety for doing so.

I've also held a couple of winter feasts, sparing no expense on food or entertainment. Guests have been treated to mountains of food, rivers of drink, and conjurers, tumblers, and fire breathers. These things are really quite the spectacle. The local bishop seems to be a bit of a jerk at the feasts, though. At the first feast he turned down more wine, which thoroughly pissed off Aed. At the next one, held a couple of years later, he was openly complaining about the food. It's weird, because he has a really high opinion of my character, in fact he holds my duke in higher regard than the pope, and yet he's bad mouthing him at these parties, and turning down his hospitality. Maybe it's water under the bridge, though, because at the last feast he and Aed stayed up until the wee hours chatting about this and that, and they seemed to have a good time.

Hurray, free money! I mean bad thieves! Bad!
The duke has also been trying to better himself via ambitions I've set for him. A lot of the ones available were the sort that would be difficult if not impossible for him to attain like gaining 500 piety or gold. His lands are just to small for him to do either of those before he dies. He's getting old. Thankfully I did get a couple of nice ambitions to choose from. First was one to bring his diplomacy up to an 8, as we was severely lacking in that area. Those feasts really helped with that and it wasn't long before he'd reached his goal at which point I was awarded an easy 100 prestige. Next came an opportunity to try and bring his scholastics up to an 8, as that was also pretty low. I leapt at this one, as I knew there was a decent chance I could get an event that would help me achieve this ambition. After a year or so of waiting my opportunity came, as a mysterious man left a book that the duke found. I had him read it thoroughly. When he was done with it he said the thing was full of nonsensical malarkey, but I did get a nice scholarship bonus, and blammo, another ambition completed, and another 100 prestige in the bank.

It's always nice when everyone survives one of my
parties eyebrows intact.
So, up to this point it's been a non-stop party in Connacht with the occasional bought of self betterment, and it has resulted in me already raking in about 450 prestige points, so I guess that's not bad. I'm not ready to go to war with anyone just yet, though I did notice that my neighbors to the south have been having at it of late. It was tempting to send in my own troops while they were weakened, but I'm not quite comfortable with doing that, as Osmond was the aggressor there, and they too have a larger military than I do. I am putting the feelers out for possibly trying to press my du jure claim on Briefne, though. I already have my spymaster over there seeing what dirt she can dig up, and I may send my chancellor there soon as well to see if he can sow some dissent and destabilize the area. I'll still need to build up my military before I can attempt something, though, so I suspect the waiting game will continue. Perhaps my character's son will be the one who has to lead Connacht into this battle, as I suspect Duke Aed I will already have passed away by the time pieces are in place for this.

That's all still a long ways off, though. For now it's time to party, and really fortify things on the home front. Some expansion will come eventually, but I'm not willing to jump the gun on it. I'll satisfy myself with feasts, festivals, and hunting for the time being.

On to Part II of this adventure.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Mildly Distracted by Guild Wars 2

Guild Wars 2 Logo

So, after much humming and hawing I've finally capitulated and picked up a copy of Guild Wars 2 (insofar as a digitally distributed game can be picked up at least).  I make a rule when there's a possibility of something that I may want to buy: Wait a couple of weeks, and if I still want it, then go get it.  Usually I forget about the thing after a couple of days, and I realize it was going to be more or less an impulse buy.  With that, I waited over a month before pulling the trigger with this game, and so far I'm glad to finally be playing it.

Getting down to the business of making a character to play as, I rolled a mesmer, then realized I didn't like him by the time he was level two.  With that I moseyed on down to the character select screen, and tried again.  This time opting for a ranger, who also is a Norn (a big viking-like human), and who happens to like her alcohol (seriously, that's an option when creating a Norn).  She even has a faithful bear companion that helps her in combat.  I named him Mister Barnaby.  A better name for a bear will never exist.

Female norn ranger
Female Norn ranger.  They're good with both ranged
and melee weapons
Setting out into the world, I find out that there's a big hunt about to start, which involved punching a giant worm in the head until it's dead.  So, we do that, there's much celebrating, and it's off to the actual game world for some wandering around, fighting monsters, helping folk, farming stuff, and maybe some arts and crafts for color.

It was while bonking random baddies over the head that I started to notice that this game is a little different. There's still the array of abilities with cooldowns on them, but there are some nice tweaks like being able to dodge and counterattack, as well as swapping between two sets of weapons.  Snazzy.  Then I noticed that I even have entirely different weapons for when fighting underwater to which I thought, "Whuuuuu~?"  followed by, "Hurray!" while proceeding to shoot at any water-dwelling denizen unfortunate enough to come into range of my harpoon gun.

A short time later, while perusing my map I noticed all of these darkened icons, and felt compelled to light them up because what icon in its right mind doesn't like being lit up?  A sad, lonely one.  So with that, I went on my way around the map helping NPCs with their problems, discovering places that apparently should be interesting to me, checking out vistas (which are kinda neat because it takes some platforming to get to these places), discovering teleportation doohickies, and doing skill point challenges (complete a challenge, get a skill point that can be used to unlock fancy new abilities).  By the end of all this, I'd lit up all of the icons in my area, and the game was all, "Thanks man!  Here's a thing!" and I was all, "Sweet!"  When I clicked on the little treasure chest to see what glorious Thing the game felt appropriate to bestow upon me, I was greeted with an item that would increase the experience my character earns by 50% for an hour.  Not bad, but I'll save that until level 70 or so when that should come in a lot more handy.

Norn on a hunt
Some Norn off to smash and / or
shoot stuff
While running around the map, my trusty ranger had managed to collect a small fortune in random junk, and my bags were beginning to look pretty darn cluttered, so I got to clicking on important looking menu icons in hopes of finding a way to remedy this.  Before long I found something that would allow me to send all of the crafting materials to my bank with the click of a button.  No running to the bank to deposit it, the stuff just magically flows through the ether until it arrives in the bank.  Mind.  Blown.  Even more amazing is that the bank has a specific area to dump crafting materials, and it appears to be bottomless.  Bottomless!

Thoroughly taken aback by this, I decided maybe I'd start fiddling around with the crafting because I'd heard on good authority that there was copious amounts of experience points to be earned from that activity (and there is!).  So what to choose.  Leather working seemed a no brainer for a ranger so she can have the finest in leathery fashion while fighting the forces of evil.  The other was cooking because I want to make cakes.

While fiddling around making stuff, my mind was blown once more because I discovered that I can just shove all my crafting goodies in the bank and leave them there.  When doing crafting at a station, the items are automatically pulled from the bank for making stuff.  This is just fantastic for reducing clutter.

A map from Guild Wars 2
Each area has a ton of places to visit.  Visit them all, get a prize.

After safely stowing away a hardy collection of hamburgers and boot soles (shut up, I'm still a lowbie at this crafting stuff!), it was back to questing, now in a nice, snow-swept mountain range.  There were more lonesome icons everywhere that I did my best to show a little love.  Wholesome love.  Not the naughty kind.    This was all mixed in with some story-related quests because apparently my character is special, and has to go on fancy missions chalk full of conversations in completely different screens (that's when you know you're special).  And that's how things have progressed to this point, showering tiny icons with affection, while doing fancy, important looking quests.  A bit of a tossed salad, and about the only salad my ranger is going to be having for the next while since she doesn't know how to make one yet (she can make salad dressing, though!).

As I'm sure you can glean from this, I kind of like Guild Wars 2.  Granted it's only been a few days, and I'm barely over level 20, but good times have been had.  Whether I'll still feel this way about the game in a month from now is anybody's guess.  We'll see.  For now I'll just continue to enjoy the game.  Anyway, that's all for now.  Stay tuned until next time, where I talk about the joys of de-leveling in a good way.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Baldur's Gate Adventures Continue...Hunting Bandits for Fun and Profit

Fighting a ghoul
Smacking around a ghoul
along the coast
My party of adventures have sorted out what the problem was at the Nashkel Mines, and why all of the iron coming out of it was of such a poor quality. Turns out that there was evil afoot. Who knew! Anyway, with the completion of that jolly jaunt it's off to Chapter Three, and it looks like my new enemy is a bunch of bandits that have been causing all sorts of problems. The good news is that one of the local commanders of the Flaming Fist is offering 50 gold per bandit scalp that I bring to her, so it's off to kill bandits indiscriminately, and make off with their hairy bounty. It's all in the name of good, though, so it's okay. =)

These scalps have already proven surprisingly profitable. My party brought back enough to make a fast 1000 gold with minimal effort, and put the proceeds toward a nice, shiny Large Shield +1 for my main character. At least I'm assuming it's shiny, though it looks like there's some wood in there, so maybe not so much. With that, I reckon it's in my group's best interests to keep hunting those baddies down, and start raking in the moolah. With a little hard work we'll make out like bandits selling those scalps. (Ho! Ho!)

At the Beregost inn
The Flaming Fist is paying top dollar for bandit
scalps

It can get a bit boring hunting down bandits all day, though, so to change things up a bit I've gone wandering around the wilderness just to see what there is to see, and what sort of trouble my party can get itself into. A lot of it has been just walking around thinking, "So man trees!" but there have also been some really fun encounters.

First there were the spiders. Glothrim and the gang (my character's name is Glothrim, by the way :p) were wandering along and would occasionally get attacked by very big spiders, which they were able to handle just fine (and get a nice amount of XP off of), with the occasional ettercap tossed in for variety. After cutting a path through the forest we encountered our first pack of tough enemies: a sword spider, a phase spider, and a wraith spider. I wasn't expecting them, so wound up getting attacked by all three at once. Being the heroic type, I sent my melees in to fight them, discovered the area is trapped, got everyone webbed, and wound up with even more very big spiders bearing down on my party. Yeah.

Black Talon Elite like using fancy arrows
Black Talon Elite don't drop scalps
but they do carry high-end
arrows that you can loot
Thankfully I remember the most important tip one can have going into an Infinity Engine game: SAVE OFTEN! The caps aren't meant to be obnoxious. It's just that important. So, with death moments away as my party was overrun by big, bad creepy crawlies, I paused, and loaded a quick save from a few minutes earlier. With that I carefully (soooo carefully) made my way to that area once more, this time making sure to only pull one of those spiders at a time. Even then, they weren't easy to take down. The sword spider hits like a truck. A truck made of swords.  The wraith spider wasn't much better. Then there was the phase spider who was mostly just annoying. My group managed to kill them all, and I think Khalid even gained a level during the fights. So, yay!

After recovering, we headed toward the center of the map because I had a feeling there may be a structure there. The whole reason I took my party to this zone was because on the world map it looked like there was a quaint little cabin in the area, so I thought it would be nice if we popped our heads in and got to know the neighbors. Turns out it wasn't a cabin, and the people there weren't very nice. It was actually some old ruins being investigated by Red Wizards of Thay.

Fighting a wraith spider
Wraith spiders give some decent experience for defeating them,
but make sure to isolate these monsters

I haven't read any of the Forgotten Realms books since high school, so I wasn't quite certain, but had a sneaking suspicion that these wizards may not be on the up and up. When we got too close their leader noticed, introduced himself briefly, and then informed us we had to die because we'd seen too much. He was surprisingly cordial about the whole thing. Now, I'm not a fan of wizards in this game because they can hit damn hard, and they always seem to like fearing a bunch of my guys, sending them running around like chickens with their heads cut off, making them pretty much useless for a while. So, having to fight a bunch of wizards at once wasn't the most titillating proposition. Sadly, it was unavoidable.

Denak, leader of a troupe of red wizards
Denak is a bit of a jerk
What transpired next wasn't pretty, and I'm not sure that fancy pulls will win the day here. These guys have the usual array of spells that I've come to expect from magic users in Faerun: mirror images, magic missles, and horror (*sigh*), but they also seem to have additional frightening magical kaboomy stuff at their disposal. With that it wasn't long before my party was wiped out, and I was sifting through save files deciding which one to load. I opted to go do something else for a bit after that little episode.

So, now my party is along the coast, smacking ogres. I haven't had to be too terribly careful with my pulls here, but it's also important not to be careless. At any rate, it's not a bad place to farm up experience, and hopefully level everyone up a few times. Minsc is getting close, and I really want Dynaheir hitting level four as well. She starting to be kinda useful with her magic now.

It's also starting to feel like it may be time to resume the hunt for bandit scalps, and maybe even finishing off this chapter, so I may just get down to that soon. Anywho, I'm off to continue my adventures. Maybe I'll even go and punch a wizard in the face to help me feel better about myself, but not a Red Wizard of Thay, though. They're mean. Until next time! =D

The Red Wizards of Thay can be a challenge
Don't mess with the Red Wizards of Thay

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Go For the Eyes, Boo!

Out in the wilderness fighting a dread wolf
There are no lack of things to fight in Faerun
With all of the recent talk about eternal projects, and doctors deciding that they don't want to make videogames anymore, I decided to blow the dust off of my old Infinity Engine games, and take them for a spin.  Well, two of them anyway: Icewind Dale and Baldur's Gate.  After a bit of back and forth, the decision was made that the latter of the two would be the one I'd stick with.  They're both great games, but Icewind Dale was a bit more combat heavy than I was looking for.  I wanted more conversations and exploration, and Baldur's Gate rounds out the experience a lot more between all of these gameplay elements.  And before I go on, I know a lot of people like the sequel better and will be all, "Just skip the first and go straight to the second.  It's sooooo much better!"  Well, quiet, you!  I like the first one, and plan to play it through to the end...or until my nostalgia itch is scratched, and I get distracted by something else.  Whichever comes first!

What replaying the game has reminded me more than anything else is just how much RPGs have changed in the last 10-15 years.  The games have gotten a lot easier, and the pace has been cranked up considerably.  Just with the game on the default difficulty I often have to work quite hard to win.  It may just be a small group of baddies, but if I go haphazardly running in swords swinging, my party will take a huge amount of damage, and people will die.  Well, maybe not so much when fighting kobolds or xvarts.  They're just a nuisance.  Against some ogres or hobgoblins or the like, especially when they may out level your party a bit, beware.  Tactics, and smart use of spells becomes the order of the day.  Have badly injured characters fall back to be healed, buff where you can, be prepared with the right spells, and most importantly don't be afraid to run away.

The game map
The more one explores the larger the world seems

It's really not like RPGs today where players are charging headlong into danger, cutting down everything in their path, and feeling like a badass after, with maybe the occasional boss fight that is sorta kinda tough.  In Baldur's Gate it really feels like the world is a dangerous place.  There are no lack of baddies out there that are ready, willing, and able to smash your party to pieces (especially when they're turned to stone).  It takes a lot more thought and skill to wade through this game than a lot of modern RPGs where it feels like players are being presented with 10-20 hours worth of monsters to smash in the face before hitting the ending credits.  It's actually really satisfying to be pushed this hard.

Then there's the whole pacing thing, as games of this period flowed a lot slower.  You could go for a nice stroll through town and have chats with countless NPCs while soaking in the local ambience. Even venturing into the wilderness, a fortress, caves, or whatever was a slower, more methodical experience.  Leveling is also a big thing in the game (as is getting new, more powerful weapons).  It's a few hours in before party members even begin to reach level two.  Heck, I'm still waiting for Dynaheir to hit level two on my current play through.  My point, though, is that leveling up means something in this game.  It's a very much needed boost to characters' stats and abilities, not just a steadily growing number that is so easy to take for granted in other games.  That level up could make all the difference between getting wiped out, or just barely making it past that one pack of monsters.

Resting up at an inn
Hurray for the relative safety of
an inn!
Grumpy old guy talk aside, it's been fun poking my head back into Faerun.  There are so many likable characters here like Minsc, Khalid and Jaheira.  I usually stick to them Imoen, and Dynaheir when I play the first game, at least when I try and be a good guy (kinda tempted to do an evil player too).  The visuals are still a pleasure as well.  I'm sure some don't like the simplistic look of it, but I love the forests in the game.  The trees look so good to me.

But, yeah, just had to type out some thoughts on the state of RPGs then and now, and how much this game has reminded me just how the genre has changed over the last decade or so.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Reflecting on Bioware

The classic company logo
Just the other day, Greg Zeschuk and Ray Muzyka, founders of Bioware, announced that they were leaving the company.  This took a lot of people by surprise, and also helped to crank up the negative feelings that a lot gamers have toward EA, as well as the direction that Bioware has been going in recent years.  It's certainly the end of an era, but it got me thinking about what the company has meant to me over the years.

Like a lot of people, the game that got me interested in Bioware was Baldur's Gate.  It was my reintroduction to PC RPGs after a very lengthy hiatus, and I really loved that game.  It had the most tactically oriented combat that I'd ever experienced in a role-playing game up to that point, there were really interesting characters that would join you on your adventure (the world met Minsc for the first time!), and the game took place in the Forgotten Realms which was one of my favorite fantasy worlds growing up.  So yeah, Baldur's Gate was all kinds of awesome for me when it came out.

After playing the game, I made a point of keeping an eye out for whatever other games may come down the line from Bioware.  I grabbed Tales of the Sword Coast when it came out, I leaped at Baldur's Gate II and its expansion, and I even played MDK2 when it came out (yes, Bioware even made the occasional game with no RPG elements in it).  This process continued right up to the first Knights of the Old Republic, devouring whatever the company had to offer.

Fighting some monsters
The Baldur's Gate series is one of my absolute favorite RPGs
It was only during this current console generation that my interest in what Bioware was putting out started to subside.  Mass Effect never really caught my eye.  I'm always up for a sci-fi RPG, and frankly there just aren't enough of them out there for my taste, but this game just wasn't something I felt compelled to run out and play from day one.  I eventually got it for $5 at a Steam sale, and played several hours of it, but to this day I can't stay interested in it enough to want to complete it.  A big part of this is that the game crashed on me once and I lost a ton of progress after which I just couldn't be bothered to play the game anymore.  In general, though, I just don't feel all that drawn to the Mass Effect series.  There isn't anything inherently wrong with the games, I'm just not interested in them.

I've even been slow to grab the Dragon Age games.  I actually like them quite a bit in no small part because the games' combat is much more similar to that of the old Infinity Engine games.  It's a lot more tactical.  Heck, I even enjoyed Dragon Age II, and I know a lot of people can't stand that game. I thought it was a fun ride, even if players had to spend a ton of time in one town.

Shooting some stuff
Mass Effect is the first Bioware game that I couldn't get excitied about.
Will I ever like the series?  Who knows!
Nonetheless, I've not been waiting with bated breath for Bioware games in recent years, and I'm not entirely sure why that is.  Have I changed?  Has Bioware?  The answer to both those questions is, "Of course!"  I'm sure that for me it's just part of getting older.  I know full well that a game is still going to be available for sale six months down the line, so why rush to get it.  It's better to wait and get the thing at a discount.  Even if the game is being heavily hyped I don't find myself hopping on board with the same zeal that I once had.  I'm also sure that EA has had an impact on Bioware since gobbling the company up five years ago.  It would certainly explain the heavy shift to console development (though, admittedly, a lot of studios that were once PC-only went multi platform in a big way this generation).  It would also explain why a lot of Bioware's most recent efforts have felt a lot more homogenized, and like they were designed with a focus group in mind.

Lightening blast
Dragon Age was a bit of a
return to Bioware's roots
The Bioware of today is a very different entity than it was five year ago.  Their games have become a lot glossier, but the meat on their bones doesn't feel as satisfying. A lot of games feel dumbed down, and Michael Bay-a-ma-fied, trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Dragon Age was a bit of a last hurray to the games that Bioware built itself up on, but even that doesn't compare to the Baldur's Gate series.

Backlash against the company has been building for a while.  There was that whole debacle regarding the ending of Mass Effect 3, a lot of people really disliked Dragon Age II, and it's safe to say that Star Wars: The Old Republic was a colossal failure. So, one has to wonder if these things played a part in Bioware's founders deciding to leave. Then again maybe they really are tired of making games, and want to walk away from it all. Whatever the case, they were the last line of defense between Bioware and EA.  With them gone, I suspect Electronic Arts will have even more direct control of the company. Sadly, when this has happened in the past it has led to the demise of countless once great studios like Bullfrog, Westwood, and Maxis. It wouldn't come as a surprise if Bioware found itself as the latest addition to this heap of carcasses sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

FTL is Really Fun!

FTL title screen

So, I've been playing a bunch of Faster Than Light since it came out, and boy is this game fun. If you're unfamiliar with it, FTL is pretty much a roguelike in space where you command a ship trying to stay ahead of rebel forces as it races back to its headquarters with vital information for the federation (not that federation, just the one they're using for this game). However, instead of piloting the ship yourself and blasting away at enemies all pew pew pew, you actually tell your crew what to do. Get someone piloting the ship, have another person man the weapons, and another taking care of the engine room (you can also put someone on shields, make boarding parties, etc), then fly from one star system to the next, sometimes helping people in distress, and other times engaging in battle (or both!). It plays a lot more like a sim combined with a strategy game, and it has been eating up inordinate amounts of my time.

FTL ship selectionIt's definitely a game much more suited to those who like micromanagement. You can tell your crew what systems to focus on, who should repair what when something gets damaged, pick people for a boarding party (assuming you have a teleporter on your ship), decide what systems to focus attacks on in battle, and how to upgrade your own ship.  There are just so many options.

Up to this point, I only have the initial ship players get in the game, the Kestrel, and I just unlocked the Engi ship the other night.  I like the Kestrel a bit more even though its the starter ship, as a lot of its key systems are more centrally located (shields, internal scanners, doors, weapons, and med bay), so if something gets damaged and needs repairs it's a lot easier to get someone there to fix it and return them to their post after. The only systems that are a bit out of the way are life support and the engine room, but it's still a more preferable setup than the Engi ship, in my opinion, as that vessel is more ring-shaped and takes a bit more travel time to get to certain systems. Also, I'm a bit more partial to the weapon systems on the Kestrel (missiles and a laser).

Battle screenSystems can be upgraded if you have enough money, and it's up to the player how they want to approach this.  One can go for high defense and start pumping cash into things like shields and engines, or be very offense oriented and crank up their weapons systems.  There's also a bunch of sub-systems like internal sensors, doors, autopilot, and such that can be improved.  Whatever the case, just be sure to improve your reactor too so that you have enough power to use these fancy new upgrades.

I've actually grown partial to upgrading my doors as it can be incredibly useful when my ship gets boarded during a battle.  I'll open my airlock, and all of the doors leading to where the enemy is on the ship, and the oxygen will get sucked into space.  With blast doors it takes longer for invaders to break through them and get into the next room, exposing them to oxygen deprived areas for longer. Once they realize what's going on, they'll scramble to a safe zone in search of air only to be greeted by my crew and their trusting blasters when they arrive.  Good times.

Star system mapThe ship battles are quite a lot of fun, and they happen often.  It feels a lot like Star Trek in some ways as I remember Captain Picard always telling Worf what to target on an enemy ship when the Enterprise got into a fight.  It was usually, "Target their weapons" or "Target their engines" or whatever.  The same sort of thing happens here with the player deciding what systems to prioritize in a battle.  I tend to go after the shields first, and then work on their weapons systems.  It keeps them defenseless, and allows you to really do a number on a ship.

FTL hasn't even been out a week yet, and I already love it to pieces.  It's fun to fly out into the cosmos and get into some fight, soup up my ship and fight some more, then die spectacularly when I bite off more than I can chew...only to start the whole process over again.